Time for undrafted rookies to step up

DENVER -- These next two weeks will be critical to the bids of the 18 undrafted rookies currently on the Houston Texans' roster.

Some will earn their way onto the soon-to-be expanded practice squad. Others will muscle into a 53-man roster spot. The Texans have been patient with the development of some of these players, and for some it's paying off.

One thing that will benefit them is Texans coach Bill O'Brien is considering parts of this week's practices to be the equivalent of scrimmages. That means if he gets enough reps for his veterans, they won't play much, if at all, in Saturday's game. That's good news for those 18 guys.

When O'Brien and I spoke a few weeks ago, he stressed the importance of seeing how players, especially inexperienced players, reacted under the lights. That NFL game-type atmosphere comes with pressure, and if a player can't play under that pressure, what good will he be during the season?

Here's a look at a few key undrafted rookies:

  • Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State: Bullough has a strong football pedigree and has looked the part of an NFL linebacker since coming to Texans camp. Almost immediately he drew the attention of his teammates. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who worked with the inside guys throughout the spring, called him an "awesome player." Against the Falcons, Bullough nabbed an interception off former Texans quarterback T.J. Yates. I've had him on my 53-man roster since the first one I made; we'll see how my prediction fares. O'Brien referred to him this week as a player who is earning some playing time.

  • Chris Boswell, K, Rice: My colleague Field Yates offered this statistic today about the extra-long extra points this preseason -- 93 percent of the kicks have been made. Boswell missed two on Saturday, which knocked him back a bit in his competition with incumbent Randy Bullock. He'll likely get more chances in the coming weeks.

  • Jason Ankrah, OLB, Nebraska: This is a tough position on which to be trying to make the active roster. The Texans have 10 outside linebackers in camp, which is significantly more than they need. But Ankrah got some reps early in Saturday's game.

  • Anthony Denham, TE, Utah: To better one's chances of making a roster, an undrafted rookie must excel at special teams. It was only one game, but Denham certainly did that this past weekend, most notably with that blocked punt that turned into a touchdown for the Texans. He has been good catching the ball in camp and if his special-teams play continues in the same vein, he could make a strong case to stick around.

  • Travis Labhart, WR, Texas A&M: This Texas kid is in a crowded position group, too, that will be tough to crack. He remains behind his college pal EZ Nwachukwu on the team's depth chart, but Labhart has shown positive signs during training camp. He isn't especially tall, at 5-foot-9, taller than only one receiver: Mike Thomas. Labhart has caught three passes for 36 yards in the first two preseason games, including an 18-yarder.